ISSN 2330-717X

Specter Of Civil War Looming In Syria – OpEd

By

Mohieddin Sajedi

Is Syria moving toward civil war? There are different answers to this question, but US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appears to be more certain than others when she says that civil war may break out in Syria if opposition forces are well-equipped and receive substantial financial support.

Her Russian counterpart has also described the current situation in Syria similar to civil war.

This comes while Clinton has not described how and from where the armed opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have received these weapons. It is not yet clear how many soldiers of the Syrian army have defected and fled to the border areas within the territory of Turkey and Lebanon, but there is no doubt that if they have run off with their own personal weapons, they cannot stand up against the still cohesive and organized Syrian army and thus desperately need foreign arms and money.

Gradually, the armed opponents of the Syrian regime are coming to the scene of propaganda. Colonel Riad al-As’aad, who has taken refuge in Turkey, where he organizes attacks on the troops of the Syrian army, says his forces only consists of “Sunni” soldiers. Another rebel commander has admitted receiving bulks of their ammunition from Lebanon. The Lebanese March 14 Alliance, led by Saad Hariri, tries to take revenge on Assad as he still holds the Syria’s leader responsible for the assassination of his father Rafiq Hariri in 2005.

Apart from the issue of civil war, foreign military action against Syria to change its regime – as in Libya – is also widely debated. The NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has repeatedly stated that the military organization will not take such an action. Building an international coalition to form a military alliance against Bashar al-Assad is still out of reach and implausible. Russia and China do not want to see a recurrence of the case in Libya.

The potential military offensive against Syria may take a limited form. These days the Turkish press is full of articles and analyses discussing the Turkish government’s attempts in creating a buffer zone in northern Syria. The leader of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood has publicly announced that it has asked Ankara to establish such a zone. Turkish media sources have added that once created the zone will be 5 kilometers wide. Yet, the measure has been opposed by some who say the act is tantamount to the violation of the territorial integrity of an Arab country as the zone will be created on the Syrian soil. Also, the establishment of the zone requires international consensus which has not yet been achieved.

In late 1990s, Syria and Turkey moved to the brink of military confrontation. The then government of Turkey accused Syria of supporting Kurdish rebels. On its part, Damascus highlighted the memory of Iskenderun province – what is known as Hatay province on the Turkish map – and how colonizers separated it from the Syrian soil and annexed it to Turkey. Abdullah Ocalan, who commanded Kurd guerillas in Turkey, was captured and Ankara established cordial relations with Syria to the extent that the two countries became two pillars of a regional axis for which Tehran and Baghdad were other pillars. Now, everything is lost.

A civil war in Syria seems possible because the majority of the country’s Christians, Alawites, Shias, and Druze are against the regime change which may lead to the establishment of a Salafi state. A large part of moderate Sunni population of Syria does not support the Muslim Brotherhood as well. What happened in Homs was an example of extreme confrontation between armed elements that oppose the existing Syrian government and the followers of other faiths in Syria.

The civil war, foreign attack or intervention, and the establishment of a buffer zone along the border are three main possibilities which may disturb the existing balance in Syria. The incumbent Syrian president, Bashar Assad, has proven to be capable of drawing hundreds of thousands of his Syrian supporters into the streets. During the past eight months, the opposition forces have also continued street protests though many of them being killed. Perhaps, another possibility should be taken into account in parallel to the above three possibilities which is being planned by other Arab states for Syria.

Suspending Syria’s membership in the Arab League (AL) and threatening Damascus with economic punishments is the most important step that the Arab states can take against Syria. AL’s economic embargo will cause difficulties for the Syrian businesspeople, many of whom still support Assad. The Arab League may also send an army of 500 inspectors into Syria in order to closely monitor the situation there.

The Syrian government has accepted all recent decisions of the Arab League, even suspension of its membership. As a result, Damascus was absent in the joint session of AL and Turkey in Morocco.

The Arab League has never played a decisive role in solving crises in Arab countries. Its intervention in Libya only came after the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) urged AL to do so. At first, Saudi Arabia and Qatar brought up a plan in the Arab League to consider a no-fly zone over Libya. The plan was then taken to the UN Security Council after which NATO was missioned to demolish the Libyan military. Has the Arab League received a green light from the Western powers to think about saving the people of another Arab country? A country which has been constantly at odds with what they call the axis of moderation.

By expelling Syria from the Arab League, its member states have withheld their protective cover from the country and not considering themselves responsible for what may happen to that country. This comes while such extreme measure has not been taken in case of Bahrain or Yemen because it would not be in line with Saudi Arabia’s interests.

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